VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- All of 22 years old, Sidney Crosby already has won a Stanley Cup championship, an NHL most valuable player honor and a league scoring title, all of it in Pittsburgh.
Now, he can add Olympic gold, but he apparently is expecting little support back home.
Minutes after Canada fended off Slovakia to take its semifinal, 3-2, late Friday night, the Penguins' captain was asked if he could imagine how Pittsburghers might react to the gold-medal matchup Sunday against the United States. He laughed a little and replied: "No, and I'm not sure I want to. It's an American city, so I'm sure they're not going to be cheering for me."
Faceoff for the final will 3:15 p.m., also at Canada Hockey Place, and it will be a rematch of the preliminary-round game won by the Americans, 5-3, Feb. 21 on the strength of Ryan Miller's 42 saves.
The matchup nearly was not to be, though, as Slovakia, a surprise semifinalist and one of the most spirited teams at these Olympics, turned in quite the late rally ...
Canada carried a 3-0 lead into the third period on goals by Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow and Ryan Getzlaf. And, with the Slovaks losing top forward Marian Gaborik to a lower-body injury late in the second and having mustered just nine shots on Roberto Luongo through 40 minutes, even the capacity crowd seemed to lose interest: By the middle of the third, a chant of "We want U-S-A!" reverberated through the place.
That soon was silenced.
Coincidence or not, Slovakia broke through with 8:25 left on Lubomir Visnovsky's bad-angle backhander and, with 4:53 left, Michal Handzus tapped a rebound over Luongo to make it 3-2.
"It wasn't what we expected going into the third, for sure," Crosby said. "It's not like we were trying to sit back, though. They got a couple breaks, and they got some life."
"We're very proud," Slovakia forward Richard Zednik said. "We weren't going to stop."
The Slovaks surely did not, tilting the ice toward Luongo and pouring it on. And, finally, with less than four seconds left, Pavol Demitra appeared to have the tying score on his blade just to Luongo's left. But his flick through the crease nicked off the base of Luongo's outstretched glove and fluttered out of the area.
"I got all of my stick on it," Demitra said. "He made a good save."
Maybe a great one.
"I got just a little piece of it with my glove," Luongo said. "All I wanted to do there was get as much of me over there as possible."
In the handshake line, Demitra and Luongo, teammates with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, shared a brief laugh over it.
With that, the heavily favored Canadians -- not to mention a nation of 33 million -- took a deep breath and could, now rightly, look ahead to the undefeated U.S. team
"We know we have a great opportunity, and that's the way we're looking at it," Crosby said. "We know we've got a tough opponent, one that's rolled through the tournament pretty well. But these are two teams now that have earned their way. Our last game was pretty emotional, and this one will be even more so."
"This certainly isn't the end result," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "We came here to try and win a gold medal, and we have an opportunity now to do that against a rival."
Slovakia, despite a handful of elite NHL players, came out deliberately, hoping to slow the pace. It worked for a while, but Canada's superior size and no-nonsense offense built a 2-0 first-period lead on the deflection goals by Marleau and Morrow. Getzlaf, one of the many super-sized forwards, got his on a power-play rebound at 16:54 of the second.
Other than the towering defense pairing of Zdeno Chara and Milan Jurcina, the Slovaks had no answer for all that size.
"We wanted to press the attack, go right at them," Getzlaf said. "Maybe we weren't mentally prepared in the third, but the bottom line is that we got it done."
Crosby finished without a point for a second consecutive game. His line, with Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla, created ample offense, but Iginla, in particular, struggled to finish quality chances.
The Canadians will be playing for their first Olympic gold since 2002, when they beat the U.S. team in Salt Lake City.
Slovakia and Finland will play for bronze tonight.